Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's Pastoral Letter - August 2010

[...] Traditionalists have been beaten four-square. When (though, strictly, it is still 'If') the Measure comes into force, there will be no more Resolution A and B, no more 'petitioning parishes'. There will be no more 'flying bishops', no more Beverley, Ebbsfleet, and Richborough. There will be again the assurance of good behaviour: no one will be over-faced by women priests and bishops ministering where they are not wanted. But there will be no guarantees (and, increasingly, no likelihood) that male bishops and priests ministering to us will share those convictions, or derive their orders from an unbroken apostolic succession of bishops in the Catholic line. Avoiding women ministers will become not a conviction about Catholic Order, shared throughout the ages, but a matter of sexual discrimination, abhorrent to all of us. In a very short time, it will have become unacceptable to invoke a sexist Code of Practice.

It is important for us all to understand how momentous all this is and what the implications are for our life together. I was never very hopeful of the Archbishops' amendment, though it was good that it was debated. It would not have brought a clear and certain place for the Catholic understanding of Faith and Order. But it would have allowed a new generation of Provincial Episcopal Visitors - flying bishops - to try to work out, with the Archbishops, some sort of corporate life for our priests, people, and parishes. It is fair to say that both Archbishops wanted that. Moreover 60% of the bishops in Synod (though not two thirds) were prepared, more or less enthusiastically, to support the Archbishops and accept their spiritual lead.

Come the final judgment when, as the Prayer Book says in the Marriage Service, 'the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed', some will have to account for the broken promises of the early 1990s. Traditionalists were then assured of a permanent and honoured place. Great store was set by the doctrine of reception (whereby no change in Holy Order would finally thought to be 'received' until it was accepted by the ancient churches of East and West). It was on the basis of these promises - both now very hollow - that Provincial Episcopal Visitors were appointed, ordinands and their families exchanged comfortable life styles for theological college, curacies, and what promised to be a lifetime of ministry, and parishes set to work energetically with the task of evangelism and catechesis. However honourably these promises were made, there were liberal pressure groups intent on destroying them. These liberal pressure groups are not full of bad people: the women and men concerned were always exasperated that the Church made such high-sounding, but undeliverable, promises. In their view -the view that has prevailed - we all simply needed to get used to the new 'inclusive' way of doing things. In their view, twenty years is quite long enough for that to have happened. But there have been broken promises indeed and some supporters of the women bishops' project recognise that and seek forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Read more

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